Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Other National Popular Vote

Many political junkies are fond of a modest proposal for electoral reform known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, often referred to as NPV for short. NPV evolved out of consternation at the result of the 2000 Presidential Election, in which George W. Bush famously won the presidency even though he didn't receive the most votes due to an archaic feature of our democracy known as the Electoral College along with a friendly ruling from the Supreme Court.

It would be admirable to institute the NPV and move to a system in which getting the most votes guarantees a victory in the presidential election. But why stop with the presidency? Last week, Democrats won more votes than Republicans in the elections for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans will maintain a solid majority in the "people's house." And this is not an uncommon result: in 1996, the same thing happened. Democrats won the House elections in terms of votes but were still in the minority in the next Congress. There were three other similar instances in the 20th century.

This is completely crazy. The House of Representatives was specifically designed to reflect the will of the people. But if a majority of Americans can't return the majority of their choice to represent them the House, that purpose has been seriously perverted.

Some argue that this result reflects gerrymandering undertaken by Republicans in many state legislatures after the 2010 census. But if you actually look carefully at the data, gerrymandering only accounts for a portion of the result. In any case, if we changed our electoral system to elect the House of Representatives based on something like proportional voting, we could eliminate the problem altogether, gerrymandering and all. We would also get the added bonus of attenuating the incentive for representatives to seek out earmarks and other special benefits for their home districts.

Might this reform damage the geographical diversity of the House of Representatives? Perhaps, but we already have a Congress that doesn't represent most forms of the diversity of our country's population. Most egregiously, women are severely underrepresented in Congress. We are nowhere near the 50-50 gender split that would reflect the population accurately. Congress also heavily overrepresents millionaires and tends to underrepresent racial and religious minorities. I would hope that people would evaluate geographical diversity as a desirable outcome alongside the other forms of desirable diversity, but this is no reason to avoid moving toward an electoral system that allows the people with the most votes to win.


  1. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80% of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.

    When the bill is enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

    The presidential election system that we have today was not designed, anticipated, or favored by the Founding Fathers but, instead, is the product of decades of evolutionary change precipitated by the emergence of political parties and enactment by 48 states of winner-take-all laws, not mentioned, much less endorsed, in the Constitution.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in recent closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: AZ – 67%, CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions with 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

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